My Shanghai Story: Shanghai’s many shades of green

17 05 2014

One of the things that I did find great joy in my recent Shanghai Adventure was the discovery of some rather delightful green spaces, spaces that are perhaps not what one expects to find in the midst of the urban sprawl of one of the world’s most highly populated cities.

An oasis in the park - a delightful space within a green space in Xujiahui - Guangqi Park.

An oasis in the park – a delightful space within a green space in Xujiahui – Guangqi Park.

Of the Shanghai’s wonderful parks and gardens, Yu Yuan (豫园) or Yu Garden, is its best known, and a well visited tourist spot. A classical Suzhou style garden, Yu Yuan’s origins go back to the reign of the Ming Emperor Jiajing in the late 16th century.

The traditional garden - the must-see Yu Garden in the Old City that dates back to the Ming Dynasty.

The traditional garden – the must-see Yu Garden in the Old City that dates back to the Ming Dynasty.

A carp filled pond in Yu Yuan.

A carp filled pond in Yu Yuan.

The garden does count as one of Shanghai’s main attractions, and while it does tend to be overrun by hordes of tourists and as a result lack that serenity (its name does mean “peace and comfort”) it was designed to provide as the private garden of Pan Yunduan, is still well worth the 40 yuan it costs to enter its 2 hectare landscaped grounds.

A portal into old Shanghai, Yu Garden.

A portal into old Shanghai, Yu Garden.

The grounds, encircled by a dragon on top of its perimeter wall, is a joy to wander through and in it one will find several fine examples of Chinese architecture that are mixed in with bridges that take the visitor over carp filled pools and labyrinths of walkways leading one to the garden’s many archways, rockeries and pavilions. A visit to Yu Yuan, would of course be incomplete without first negotiating the right angles of the nine-cornered bridge for that pause over tea at the Huxinting.

A walkway in Yu Yuan.

A walkway in Yu Yuan.

The garden has some nice examples of Chinese architecture.

The garden has some nice examples of Chinese architecture.

A steady stream of visitors even in the steady rain.

A steady stream of visitors even in the steady rain.

Inside one of Yu Yuan's magnificent buildings.

Inside one of Yu Yuan’s magnificent buildings.

While calm may not be what one does now find within the grounds of Yu Yuan, it is a quality that there is no shortage of in two parks that I did get to see some distance from the hurly burly of the old city in Xujiahui on the western fringe of Shanghai’s former French Concession.

Xujiahui Park is an expansive green oasis created on a former industrial site.

Xujiahui Park is an expansive green oasis created on a former industrial site.

The first, the sprawling green oasis that is Xujiahui Park, is a more recent addition to Shanghai’s cityscape. The 8.6 hectare park, was apparently developed on a former industrial site that was occupied in part by the Great China Rubber Factory (大中华橡胶厂). A chimney seen rising over the tree-tops, a remnant of the factory, is now all that is left to remind Shanghai of the factory.

Colours of Xujiahui Park.

Colours of Xujiahui Park.

A reminder of the beautifully green Xujiahui Park's industrial past: the chimney of the Great China Rubber Factory.

A reminder of the beautifully green Xujiahui Park’s industrial past: the chimney of the Great China Rubber Factory.

At the base of the chimney.

At the base of the chimney.

The park, now a popular place amongst the city folk looking for a respite from the insanity that city life does bring, is also where a gorgeous red brick villa – built to house the offices and recording studios of the Pathé Orient (a record company which was to be absorbed by EMI) is to be found. The Dutch style villa, which now houses a restaurant, was where the song that was to become the National Anthem of the People’s Republic of China, March of the Volunteers, had first been recorded.

The former premises of the Pathé Orient at Xujiahui Park.

The former premises of the Pathé Orient at Xujiahui Park.

Colours to complement the red former Pathé villa at Xujiahui Park.

Colours to complement the red former Pathé villa at Xujiahui Park.

A stone’s throw from the luscious greens of Xujiahui Park, is another pretty pocket of greenery, just south-west of Xujiahui Cathedral. The green space, Guangqi Park, is where a path that one enters through an ornamental archway, leads to the tomb of Xu Guangqi, a Ming Dynasty official who is responsible for the Xu in the name Xujiahui – where there once had been a confluence of rivers over which some of the district’s boulevards now run over.

The archway beyond which lies the tomb of Xu Guangqi.

The archway beyond which lies the tomb of Xu Guangqi.

A portal into the Roman Catholic influence of Shanghai.

A portal into the Roman Catholic influence of Shanghai.

Xu Giangqi, also a learned scholar and an early Chinese convert to the Roman Catholic faith, collaborated and worked with the Jesuit Matteo Ricci whose influence was responsible for Xu’s conversion. It is not just in the tomb that the illustrious Xu is remembered, but also in a little memorial hall on the edge of the park, the Xu Guangqi Memorial Hall.

A bust of Xu Guangqi at the courtyard of the memorial hall.

A bust of Xu Guangqi at the courtyard of the memorial hall.

In the courtyard of the memorial hall.

In the courtyard of the memorial hall.

The memorial hall, in which one is immediately overcome by the sense of calm provided in the grounds of a traditional courtyard house, is where Xu’s tremendous achievements through his life and career are celebrated. The house in which it finds itself in, is also one to celebrate. The origins of what was previously the South (Nan) Chun Hua house also lies in the Ming Dynasty. Re-located from another location to the park, the house is a magnificent example of Chinese architecture and typical of the residential architecture of the period.

Wall mounted tablets at the memorial hall.

Wall mounted tablets at the memorial hall.

Guangqi Park as well as Xujiahui Park, given their proximity to the French Concession, is perhaps also a good starting point for a walking, or better still, a bicycle tour of what is another wonderfully green and architecturally rich part of Shanghai in the former French Concession. The area is well served by the Shanghai Metro, with the closest stop being Xujiahui. Yu Yuan, is also served by the Metro, with Yu Yuan Garden being the closest stop.


My Shanghai Adventure was made possible by Spring Airlines, China’s first Low Cost Carrier. Flights from Singapore to Shanghai were launched on 25 April 2014 . More information can be found on Spring Airline’s website. Do also look out for Spring’s special deals which are regularly posted on their website and also on their Facebook Page (current deals include a pay one-way deal and a two-nights free accommodation deal).


Previous posts related to My Shanghai Story





The green, green grass, disappearing from home

8 11 2013

In a Singapore inundated with the clutter that urbanisation brings, open spaces – wild, and green, however transient, are always ones to be celebrated. Open spaces such as this one on which a former cemetery, Bidadari once stood, are fast being lost to the tide of steel, glass and concrete from which they had served as a respite from  – sanctuaries where a much needed sense of space otherwise missing in the clutter and crowds, can be found.

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The cemetery was one of Singapore’s largest and with burials taking place over six and the half decades from 1907 to 1972, contained as many as 147,000 graves of members across the communities. Converted into a temporary park after the completion of exhumation in 2006, the grounds, even in its days in which the resting places of the departed decorated the landscape, has been a place to find peace in.

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With its days now numbered – a recent announcement by the HDB on plans for its redevelopment as a housing estate has the first developments taking place by 2015, there is not much time before the joy it now provides will be lost to the urban world it has for so long resisted.

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The plans put forward by the HDB do show some sensitivity to what the place might once have been or represented, with the cemetery and the greenery it provided not completely forgotten.

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Besides the preservation of some of the cemetery’s heritage, one promise that the development of the 93 ha. site holds is that of a 10 ha. green space which will incorporate a man-made lake – said to be inspired by the famous lake which belong to the Alkaff Lake Gardens we now only see photographs of.

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While that does create a very pleasant environment to live and play in, it will not provide what the space now provides, that escape I find myself seeking more and more of from the overly cluttered and crowded world our many of our urban spaces have become.

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Other disappearing or already vanished open and green places:

Some newly found, existing or reclaimed spaces: